Famagusta & Salamis

Lala Mustafa Pasa  Mosque, Famagusta

Famagusta (or Gazimağusa in Turkish) is one of the larger towns in Northern Cyprus and is the main port. It would probably have been much bigger by now but the international embargo placed on the Turkish controlled part of Cyprus following the Turkish invasion in 1974 has stunted development of the city, which lies close to the disputed border with the south (Republic of Cyprus).

The absence of development has its benefits for tourism as the historic heart of the old city remains unspoilt behind well-preserved medieval city walls.

Famagusta Port and city walls

The best known landmark within the walled city is the Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque. This building was formerly St. Nicholas Cathedral and built in the 14th century during the rule of the French Lusignan kings. The main facade, with its 3 large gables and canopied doorways and elaborated rose window above, is said to be modelled after Reims Cathedral.

Lala Mustafa Pasa  Mosque, Famagusta

The upper levels of the two towers were partially destroyed during the Ottoman bombardment of 1571 and when the town finally fell to the Ottomans, the cathedral was converted to a mosque and a minaret added. Stained glass was replaced by clear glass, tombs and altars were removed and frescoes were plastered over but otherwise the interior remains remarkably intact.

Mihrab in Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque, Famagusta

A mihrab (prayer niche), an imam’s pulpit and wall-to-wall carpeting are the only additions to the interior of the mosque which is still in use today.

Remains of Venetian Royal Palace, Famagusta

The walled city of Famagusta is littered with antiquities and ruins and had it not been for the international embargo, the area would probably have been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site and received vast dollops of cash and expert conservation assistance. For now, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’s Department of Antiquities and Museums seems to be doing a reasonable job in looking after their historical sites.

Salamis

Ruined stadium, Salamis, Northern Cyprus

The remains of the ancient city of Salamis (nothing to do with sausages) are found around 6km north of Famagusta. Salamis was once the capital of Cyprus and can trace its origins as far back as 1100BC. Many invaders left their mark on the city but most of the ruins visible today are Roman era.

Salamis, Cyprus

The site covers a large area next to the coast. Wars and earthquakes have taken their toll and after Salamis was abandoned, shifting sands covered much of the site. These sands have helped to preserve what is buried underneath and, while part of the site has been excavated, you get the feeling that there must be many more archaeological discoveries waiting to be unearthed. Most excavation worked stopped here after the 1974 invasion.

Amphitheatre, Salamis, Cyprus

Ruins which have been excavated so far include Roman baths and gymnasium, a fish market, reservoir, colonnaded street, roman villa, a stadium, temple of Zeus and 7th century Byzantine walls.

Beach at Salamis, Famagusta

The beaches next to Salamis and elsewhere along Famagusta Bay are among the best in Cyprus with clear water and soft sand.

Sea bream and chips, Salamis, Famagusta

We had a good lunch at the beach-side restaurant at Salamis. Grilled sea bream accompanied by salad and chips, which seem to be served with nearly every meal in Northern Cyprus. Must be the British influence!

King George VI letterbox, Famagusta, Cyprus

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St. Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus

St. Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus

I seem to have been visiting a lot of castles in recent months – in England, in Wales and, last week, in Northern Cyprus.

Perhaps the most spectacular of those visited is St. Hilarion Castle, perched dramatically on a 700m high outcrop of the Besparmak Mountain range that runs for 160km along Cyprus’s northern coast.

St. Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus

From the castle ramparts visitors can enjoy fantastic views overlooking the surrounding area including the historic city of Kyrenia and, on a clear day like this one, it is possible to make out the Turkish coastline some 100km away.

The ruins span multiple levels and quite a hike is involved to reach the highest watch tower at 732m above sea level.

St. Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus St. Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus

The castle is said to be named after a 10th Century hermit monk who built a rudimentary shelter on the mountain, living off figs, bread, salad and olive oil (still staples of the Turkish Cypriot diet) while performing the odd miracle, which no doubt led to his sainthood.

St. Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus

By the 11th Century, the Byzantines had begun construction of fortifications at St. Hilarion intended to protect the island against attacks from the Arabs.

The castle gets a mention in accounts of Richard the Lionheart’s campaign in Cyprus in 1191. Some say he spent his honeymoon at St. Hilarion, following his marriage to Berengaria of Navarre which took place at the Chapel of St. George in Limassol on 12 May 1192. Berengaria, who was crowned Queen of England on the same day, is known as the only English Queen never to have stepped foot in the country while Queen. Richard took his new bride off to the Crusades with him (which seems a mean way to treat her). She returned to Spain after a few months and never saw him again. Their marriage was childless.

St. Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus

Much of what remains of the castle today was built by the Lusignans during the 1200’s. If, like me, you are not too familiar with the Lusignans, they were a noble family originating from an area near Lusignan in western France who, through their participation in the crusades, ended up as Kings of Cyprus and Jerusalem, among other places.

St. Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus

A poster in the information gallery claims that St. Hilarion Castle was the inspiration for the castle design in Walt Disney’s 1937 animation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That may or may not be true but St. Hilarion certainly has a fantasy world feel to it and is one of the top tourist attractions in Northern Cyprus.

Walt Disney's castle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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Bukit Sapu Tangan

It has been a while since I climbed any hills in Malaysia.

Bukit Sapu Tangan is a baby hill, only 200m or so high, but it provides a good work-out in the sweaty tropical conditions. It is located in Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam (formerly known as Malaysia Agriculture Park).

Taman Botani's new logo

Map showing location of Bukit Sapu Tangan

The red arrow marks the location of Bukit Sapu Tangan, about 6km round trip from the entrance gate of Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam.

I went there yesterday, a public holiday in Malaysia, to take advantage of the light traffic conditions. Taman Botani is a huge park on the outskirts of KL which once formed part of a vast unspoilt forest but is now hemmed in on all sides by the capital’s fast expanding urban sprawl. See this Google Map (link below) to get an idea of how encroaching development is nibbling away at the edges of the park.

https://www.google.com.my/maps/@3.1083453,101.5050332,6757m/data=!3m1!1e3

Once inside the park you soon forget about the bustle of the city as the sounds, sights and smells of the jungle take over.  Being a public holiday, the main trails within the park were busy, particularly with cyclists as bikes can be hired inside the park. The terrain is quite hilly and unless you are super fit and have a bike with good gears, you end up pushing your bike uphill for much of the way. (Mums and Dads should avoid renting their own bikes as they will spend most of the time pushing their children along).

Taman Botani is good for cycling if you are fit.Bukit Sapu Tangan

The path to Bukit Sapu Tangan is marked with a sign showing a distance of 1.8km. This distance, and the fact that the path becomes narrower and steeper, is enough to put off most visitors and I saw nobody else hiking on this section. But it is still a tarmac path so easy to walk on and no need to worry about snakes and other creepy crawlies. Apart from a few skink lizards, small birds and the sound of monkeys crashing around in the treetops, I did not come across much wildlife.

Peaceful trek through the woods towards Bukit Sapu TanganThe path is made of tarmac so it is suitable for cyclists too (but not allowed on the steep downhill section).

Tall trees line the route.The view tower on top of Bukit Sapu Tangan

At the top of the hill is a concrete and wood view tower from which there was a somewhat hazy view of Shah Alam city centre and beyond.

View of Shah Alam from the top of Bukit Sapu Tangan.

The view from this side gives an idea of the scale of the park but to the rear more new housing developments are underway, threatening the fragile eco-system of this once pristine forest.

New developments encroaching on Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam

Bukit Sapu Tangan translates as Handkerchief Hill. Perhaps its odd name means that you have to take some sort of cloth with you to mop your brow. Or perhaps it refers to the future size of the park once all the planned development projects are finished!

You can find more details about Taman Botani (Malaysia Agriculture Park) on my Malaysia-Traveller website.

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Tuck’s Oilette Postcards

Though I am not much of a deltiologist, I do have a reasonable collection of vintage and modern picture postcards cluttering up my spare room. Among the older and more attractive postcards are a series of Oilettes which resemble miniature oil paintings and were produced by a firm called Raphael Tuck & Sons during the early 20th century.

Sailing Boat in the Moonlight

Sailing Boat in the Moonlight – Tuck’s Oilette Postcard, Artist Th. Rogge

These mini works of art helped spread art appreciation to the masses:

The president of the Royal Academy, who visited the remotest corners of Scotland each year, expressed his opinion concerning Tuck’s influence on art. He said, “Mr. Tuck’s graphic productions were likely more effective than all of the art galleries in the world.” Tuck postcards decorated drawing rooms in elegant mansions as well as country cottages with their uneven, smoky walls. This art connoisseur observed that the world’s art galleries could only reach a few people while Mr. Tuck’s postcards went to millions of individuals at every level of society. (Source: TuckDB Postcards)

Brief History of Raphael Tuck & Sons

Raphael Tuck migrated to England with his wife and children from his native Prussia and opened a shop in London in 1866 selling pictures and frames but soon expanded into printed graphic art techniques such as lithographs, chromos and oleographs.

Tuck’s were pioneers in many ways. Although Raphael was an Orthodox Jew, it was his firm that popularised, if not invented, the modern Christmas card. His son Adolph launched a competition offering artists prize money of 5,000 Guineas (equivalent to a whopping £440,000 in today’s money) for the best Xmas card designs.

They also did much to bring about the Golden Age of Postcards (1898-1919) by persuading the British Postmaster General to accept a standardised postcard format with a picture on one side and space for a message and address on the other.

London Bridge Station 1907

The Cameron Scottish Clan Oilette Postcard, 1906

A set of oilettes depicting London Railway Stations was released in 1907 while a series of Scottish Clans was issued in 1906.

Competitions with big prize money were staged to encourage people to collect as many postcards as possible from Tuck’s vast range. These promotions had a ‘chain’ element and attracted huge public interest – early forerunners of ‘going viral’!

The company expanded into children’s books, wedding books, baby books, calendars, valentine’s cards, birthday cards and many other product lines made from paper. They expanded geographically too and at various times during their existence they had offices in London, New York, Montreal, Berlin, Bombay, Buenos Aires, Cape Town and, oh yes, Northampton.

Success brought honours and status. Queen Victoria and subsequent monarchs granted the firm the Royal Warrant of Appointment as Art Publishers to the Queen/King while Adolph Tuck was made a baron in 1910.

Their London HQ was bombed during the Blitz destroying all of their original pictures, photographs and records. The company soldiered on after the war but was eventually absorbed into Maxwell Communications Corporation in 1987.

What of the future of picture postcards? I imagine the industry is in sharp decline. As my children remind me, why would anyone of their generation want to send a postcard in this age of Facebook and Instagram?

Hong Kong Oilettes

Scenes from all over the world were reproduced on oilette postcards. Here are some of Hong Kong. Hope you like them.

Hong Kong, The Filter Beds oilette postcard

Hong Kong, The Hill Side oilette postcard

Hong Kong, General Post Office oilette postcard

Hong Kong, Queens Road Central (Chinese Portion) oilette postcard

Hong Kong, Supreme Court oilette postcard

Hong Kong, The Peak Tramway oilette postcard

Hong Kong, The Botanical Gardens oilette postcard

Hong Kong, The City Hall oilette postcard

Hong Kong, Junk oilette postcardHong Kong, Rickshaw oilette postcardHong Kong, Rickshaw oilette postcardHong Kong, Buffalo Plough oilette postcardHong Kong, Sedan Chair oilette postcard

Hong Kong, A Chinese Temple oilette postcard

It would appear that this scene above (and some of the others) was copied from an actual photograph postcard (below) and it is possible that the artist never stepped foot in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, A Chinese Temple , photo postcard

I can’t read the Chinese characters but this looks like Man Mo Temple in Hollywood Road.

The Thrifty Traveller

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Great Malaysian Railway Journeys

malayarailwayguide

Some time ago I came across a 100 year old publication called Tours In The Malay Peninsula, Pamphlet of Information for Travellers written by the Federated Malay States Railway.

The pamphlet describes a rail journey from Penang to Singapore in 1914. To mark the publication’s centenary I thought it would be interesting to repeat the journey and see how things have changed.

What’s more, I decided to write a website about it, which might seem a nutty thing to do given its niche audience, but it has given me an excuse to visit various places along the route which I might otherwise have not bothered visiting.

I’ve called the website Great Malaysian Railway Journeys in homage to Michael Portillo’s excellent TV series about Great British and Continental railway journeys.

The website is still a work in progress but I hope you’ll take a look at it by clicking here.

Great Malaysian Railway Journeys

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Back to Boracay

Sunset in Boracay, August 2014

We’ve just returned from a beach holiday in Boracay in the Philippines. For me and my wife it was our second visit, the first time having been way back in 1986.

In those days Boracay was still undeveloped and not well known outside of the Philippines. We were curious to see how things have changed over the past three decades.

Getting There

Caticlan Airport 1986

In 1986 we landed on Caticlan airport’s grass runway in a small propeller aircraft. In those laid-back days departing passengers could relax on the runway while waiting for their flight to board. The check-in/baggage hall was just a small nipa hut. A tricycle transported us to a nearby beach from where we hired a motorised banca to ferry us across to Boracay Island. We were dropped off on the beach directly in front of our hotel room.

Caticlan Airport Baggage Hall in 1986 

These days international flights land at Kalibo Airport which is a couple of hours’ drive away from Caticlan. Kalibo is better equipped to handle large aircraft but they need to employ more Immigration officials to check the passports of the high volume of passengers.

Hotels

In 1986 there were only a handful of places to stay on the island. We stayed at Fridays which is still operating today and is located at the best end of Boracay’s magnificent White Beach. Our room was directly facing the ocean but was fairly basic with no air-conditioning or fan, in fact there was no electricity at all on the island at that time. They also ran out of drinking water and the only liquids available were San Miguel Beer and Fanta, neither of which was great for breakfast.

Friday's Hotel, Boracay in 1986

Today Boracay has 289 resorts with 7907 rooms (source of statistics: Boracay Sun Community Newspaper). They all have electricity and some are very smart indeed.

Population

All these hotels and restaurants require a small army of workers to man them. Boracay’s population has mushroomed from around 3,000 inhabitants in 1986 to over 30,000 today. A tarmac road runs down the spine of the island with various lanes running off it lined with some fairly scruffy buildings where lower income employees and their families live and shop. I don’t remember any vehicles or tarmac roads in 1986 but now there are 2195 motorbikes, 660 motor tricycles, 419 vans and 84 trucks vying for space on the main road. 

Boracay Main Road - 2014

Positive Changes

While all the above changes might seem negative, it is not all bad news and in some ways Boracay has improved over the years. Shopping for example. There were no shops at all in 1986 apart from a basic food market. Now there are pedestrianized precincts like D’Mall which are lined with shops selling everything that a visitor might need such as food, souvenirs, clothing, pharmacies, designer fashions and so on.

Frog Bags in D'Talipapa MarketNothing But H2O

There are also 260 restaurants to choose from with cuisines ranging from Filipino to Italian to Korean. (There are hordes of Korean tourists on the island by the way with Taiwanese probably being the next most numerous). Boracay has 70 spas so there is no excuse for feeling stressed (we didn’t try any). Nightlife is active with lots of live singing going on in bars and restaurants but they seem to have avoided most of the sleazy type of nightlife found in some other Asian beach resorts.

Things To Do

In 1986 there was little to do on Boracay apart from relaxing on the beach with a good book but that was its charm. Nowadays they have all kinds of water activities imaginable, such as parasailing, jet skiing, helmet dive, banana boat, wake boarding, kite boarding, mermaid lessons,  sailing, island hopping and glass bottom boat. On land there is quad biking, horseback riding, go-karting, zorbing, zip lining, mountain biking and trekking.

Sailing Off White Beach - 2014

Paradise Lost?

Boracay might not be the pristine, unspoilt paradise it once was but the authorities and local residents have done a good job at least in maintaining White Beach as beautiful as ever and it continues to be rated as one of the world’s best beaches.

To avoid putting more strain on the island’s stretched infrastructure, they should cap future developments and concentrate instead on upgrading what they already have. There are plenty of other beautiful islands in the Philippines still to be exploited for tourism and resources should be diverted there.

Boracay White Beach 2014

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Scottish Independence- Keep Calm and Stay United

While back in UK recently I was struck by how calmly the English public are reacting to Scotland’s forthcoming referendum on independence, now only weeks away.

The UK is facing the biggest threat to its existence since Adolf Hitler and yet the British Government is just sitting back and letting events take their course. What would Winston Churchill have done in these circumstances one wonders? Arrested Alex Salmond and his SNP cronies and put them on trial for treason perhaps? If David Cameron’s cabinet even fleetingly considered this drastic option they would have wisely concluded that nothing is more likely to get the Scots’ backs up than a perceived attack by the English. So the Scots are getting their bothersome referendum without excessive interference from Whitehall.

Does it matter that much even if the result is a Yes vote for independence? After all Scotland is not going anywhere – it’ll still be there, stuck on the end of England. We’d be like a divorced couple sharing this semi-detached island. The Scots would be staring over the fence at England (and Wales) wondering jealously how they can afford all those shiny new cars on the drive while the English would envy the Scots for their spacious garden with the loch water-features.

English Whisky CompanyIf the Scots do vote for independence, expect a backlash from the English. Why would the English continue to drink ‘foreign’ Scotch whisky for example when there are perfectly good English whisky manufacturers. As for shortbread biscuits, England will opt for south-of-the-border alternatives or make do with digestives. Apart from whisky and biscuits, there are few other exports from Scotland that English consumers are interested in.

And with all the controversy about EU migrants taking jobs from locals, how will the English feel about Scots coming over and taking all those plum City of London jobs, once Scotland is a foreign country? It will all be very interesting to see what happens.

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But the annoying thing about this referendum is that even if the result is a resounding ‘No’, the issue will not go away for ever and Salmond and Co. will likely push for repeat votes every so often until they get their way. It would probably be best for everybody if, after the referendum (assuming the outcome is ‘No’), Salmond were to be quietly picked up and exiled to New Caledonia in the Pacific. Perhaps he’ll have more luck in leading that nation to independence (from France).

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